Top 10 Japanese Inventions

Sony Watchman FD-210

Japanese tech companies are better known for improving upon foreign inventions, but there have been plenty of significant technologies to come out of Japan in the last 50 years. Here are ten of the best.

10. The Flat-Panel Display

The first commercially available flat-panel display of any kind could be found on the Sony Watchman FD-210, a pocket television released in 1982. The FD-210′s display was a paltry five centimeters, but the technology involved was impressive and paved the way for the home flatscreens we see today. The first LCD and Plasma televisions were also created by Japanese companies, Sharp and Pioneer respectively.

9. The Floppy Disk

The floppy disk is counted among the many inventions of the colorful Yoshiro Nakamatsu, AKA Dr. NakaMats. The details behind the invention, and how the technology wound up in IBM’s hands, are shrouded in mystery, but Nakamatsu was awarded a patent for the base technology behind the floppy disk in 1952, long before they went public. While floppy disks are now considered a relic, they were the primary portable storage medium for computer users everywhere for a good three decades.

Early Sony Mavica Model

8. The Digital SLR Camera

The first known digital camera with single-lens reflex elements was the Sony Mavica, revealed to the public in 1981. However it wasn’t until 1999 and the release of the Nikon D1, that Japanese-developed, full-fledged digital SLRs started to supplant 35 mm film as the popular choice among professional photographers, thanks to their superior combination of speed, ease of use, and image quality.

7. The Video Cassette

The video cassette and VCR, both Sony creations made available in 1971, represented the start of a new era in home entertainment. Thanks to the video cassette, consumers were finally able to watch films at home, and at a time of their choosing. Studios benefited enormously too, as they were granted a new revenue stream in the form of the home video market, which eventually overtook the box office in value.

6. The Camcorder

As hard as it is to believe now, the process of on-location video recording used to require at least two people. Prior to the 1980s TV news crews used video cameras – that is, the devices that were actually used to shoot video – with separate recording units. The earliest portable video recorders still had to be connected to the camera via a cable, which limited their utility. With the Sony Betacam, released in 1982, a video camera and video recorder were combined into a single device for the first time. The camcorder, as it came to be known, revolutionized journalism and
filmmaking, and eventually brought video recording home.

5. The Pocket Calculator

Although the first so-called ‘compact’ calculator was also made in Japan, it wasn’t until 1971, birth year of the Busicom LE-120A, that truly portable calculators became widely available. 1978′s Sharp EL-8086 was the first solar-powered calculator, and this further extended the reach of the device, helping to conserve battery and brain power around the world.

4. The Portable Music Player

Before the iPod, the Sony Walkman was synonymous with music on the go. While technically not the world’s first portable cassette player, the Walkman was by far the most successful, bringing the concept of portable music to the masses. Sony introduced a number of new features along the line, including a recording function (still sorely missing from modern music players!), and playback of other media, like CDs (1984′s Discman), and even TV and video cassettes (with the Video Walkman, released in 1989). Just try to imagine what the world would be like without portable music players.

3. The Quartz Wristwatch

Released in 1969, the Seiko Astron was the world’s first quartz wristwatch. Quartz technology represented a substantial upgrade over old-fashioned mechanical watches, as it eliminated the need for easily damaged moving parts, while keeping time more accurately than previous watches. Quartz remains the standard for wristwatches to this day.

2. The High-Speed Passenger Train

The 12-car 0-Series Shinkansen bullet train, which ran from 1964 to 2008, was the world’s first high-volume, high-speed passenger train. Superior rail transport was one of the major factors that helped to power Japan’ economy to number two in the world, and the design of the early Shinkansen influenced overseas engineers as well.

1. The Compact Disc

Created jointly by Sony and Philips in the late 1970s, the compact disc, and the Sony-developed CD player, are perhaps the most important technologies to come out of Japan. Originally intended strictly as a replacement for vinyl records, the CD proved useful as a general data storage medium in the form of the CD-ROM and then the CD-R. Its successor technologies, the DVD and Blu-ray disc, are also both joint Sony/Philips creations. The optical disc remains one of the modern world’s most ubiquitous inventions.

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